Heroic Coven of Shivarra — bring your bookie

Last night our guild took another stab at Heroic Coven of Shivarra in Antorus the Burning Throne. It was our second venture into it, and we were unsuccessful. It’s not like we have run up against a brick wall or anything on this boss — think we only have something like 25-30 Heroic wipes so far. And I suspect we will kill it next week. But there is something about this fight that just feels wrong — a frustrating powerlessness that makes it more akin to a game of chance than the kind of tough boss fight Blizz used to design.

For those who have not been on the raid, Coven is a council-type boss fight, with three bosses that switch out so that you fight any two of them at once. At intervals, various types of large adds appear around the room. The adds are quite powerful, and failure to deal properly with them will wipe the raid, as will failure to deal with the various continuous damage powers of the bosses. At any given time, the raid is dealing with 3-4 or more simultaneous mechanics, and it can get quite hectic.

This in itself is not bad — kind of standard fare in modern raids. What strikes me as different about this raid is the extent to which raid composition and pure luck play a role in success. Yeah, I know there have been other tiers where certain boss kills were somewhat dependent on luck, but Coven seems to be in a class all its own for its dependence on these factors. Two examples:

  • Location of safe spots during the storm AoE. This AoE will kill you unless you are standing in one of several randomly-located safe spots for the duration. If most or all of these safe spots spawn on top of other one-shot mechanics, the raid will wipe. And this happens regularly.
  • Order of adds. Certain types of adds are much more difficult (ok, almost impossible) to survive if they spawn at certain points in the fight (Norgannon adds during Storm, for example, or during the targeted freeze mechanic or during the mass-slow mechanic). There are only four types of adds, so the chances of drawing a raid-wiping combo of them are pretty high.

The above are the major RNG factors, but there are a ton of minor ones, too. If a player gets more than one random targeted debuff — which seems to happen with distressing regularity — and happens to not be at full health when they hit, the player will almost certainly die. If a player happens to get the frozen debuff during Norgannon adds, that player will almost certainly die to the adds. And there are countless other debuff combos that will insta-kill you, all of them the result of random targeting.

Also, as I mentioned, the raid composition heavily influences your chances for success. One that is heavy on melee has almost no chance of killing this boss, and in fact any raid that is not nearly all ranged will have significantly more difficulty than one that is. Classes with shorter defensive cooldowns are at a distinct advantage over ones with, say only 1 or 2 long defensive cooldowns. And druids and DKs are really the classes of choice for their exceptionally efffective cc abilities for the Norgannon adds. Blizz is once again rewarding us for bringing the class, not the player.

When you add all this up, you get a raid boss that seems — more than any other thus far in the game — to require more luck than skill to beat. (Interestingly, in Mythic — so I am told, I do not know it firsthand — the order of adds for this boss is fixed instead of random. Can’t be introducing uncertainty for the professional players, can we now? After all, they are the primary target audience for this game.)

As I said above, we will almost certainly kill this boss within a week or so, and eventually we will outgear it so that we can roflstomp through. But that is not the point. The point is, that while the mechanic design for this boss may have been relatively decent, the RNG implementation of nearly every aspect of that design — along with the cascading effect on raid composition — is terrible.

Most raid teams consider Coven to be the most challenging boss in the raid, harder even than Argus, the final boss, another indication that it is badly implemented. Sorry, but I belong to the camp that still believes the final boss should be the most difficult one…

I have complained before about what I consider to be Legion’s over-reliance on RNG for nearly every aspect of the game. But the introduction of large-scale randomness even in a raid boss seems to be approaching a jump-the-shark point in the game. It is not fun™ to be put in a position in a boss fight where you know either you as a player will die or the raid will wipe and there is nothing you can or could have done to prevent it. You can ignore it to an extent if it is an exceptionally rare occurrence. But when it happens with the frequency it seems to in Coven, it is a worrisome trend. This is not the WoW raid design that drew me to the activity in the first place.

When Legion is in our rear-view mirrors, will we see its RNG pervasiveness as the point where Blizz recognized they had gone too far, or as the jumping-off point for a new genre: the Massively Multiplayer Online Game of Chance?

On that low note, it is time to start the weekend. See you on the other side.

What makes a boss fight fun?

After procrastinating for a few weeks, I finally queued for an Archimonde group in LFR a couple of days ago. After all the player complaints and anecdotal horror stories, I was expecting my experience to be an exercise in frustration. Imagine my surprise when I found it to actually be fun.

I was in what I imagine must have been a good (Tuesday) group. We started fresh and downed him on our third try, with very few deaths. After the first wipe, someone calmly explained a few of the mechanics, no name-calling, no personal insults or rage quits, all very grown up and polite. Of course, Blizz has nerfed the LFR version of this boss a couple of times, so that was a factor, too. But in its current form, I found the fight mechanics to be very straightforward, at least for damage dealers, and not too complex for a group of strangers to manage. My only real quibble with the fight is that once again Blizz has designed it such that the fail point comes near the end, and it is a very long fight. Too long for LFR, even for a final boss, but that is a pet peeve of mine.

Nevertheless, as I said, I thought it was fun. Which got me to thinking, what makes a boss fight fun for me? Turns out this is a hard question to answer. Like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of porn — “I know it when I see it ” — a “fun” boss is easy to identify when you experience it but very difficult to define in advance. Also, I am certain that — like porn — everyone’s definition varies somewhat.

What are some boss fights I thought were fun? As I only really started raiding with a regular team near the end of Wrath, I won’t go back to the fog-enshrouded of BC and before. But here is a list of my top ten boss fights (not in any particular order):

  • The Lich King (from Icecrown Citadel)
  • Theralion and Valiona (from Bastion of Twilight)
  • Alysrazor (from Firelands)
  • Ultraxion (from Dragon Soul)
  • Spine of Deathwing (from Dragon Soul)
  • Warmaster Blackhorn (from Dragon Soul)
  • Murozond (not a raid, but last boss of End Time instance in Cata)
  • Sha of Fear (from Terrace of Endless Spring)
  • Siegecrafter Blackfuse (from Siege of Orgrimmar)
  • Brackenspore (from Highmaul)

I really don’t know what it is about these fights that I like, but I know I do. One thing that I notice is that in most of them I had some sort of special raid duty — part of the price of being a hunter, lol. I always kind of liked raid duties, didn’t try to avoid them like most people do. I wonder if that particular aspect of being a hunter will be gone in Legion. Actually, it may be gone now, with the destruction of SV as a viable spec. BM hunters lose a lot of dps in any fight requiring a lot of target switching, and MM hunters really are not nearly as mobile as all hunters used to be. SV hunters were perfect for flame thrower duty in Brackenspore, you could leave your pet on the boss while you bopped around burning moss then stepped back in range for some great dps, rinse and repeat. It was fun. As was Siegecrafter, once you figured out how to jump while on the conveyor belt, and dodge the fire. Those kind of extra duties break up the monotony of long fights. Even though Garrosh was not one of my favorite bosses, I always like having Engineer duty. And I loved the extra duties I had in Ko’agh and even The Butcher.

The other thing I notice is that most of my favorite fights required a reasonable, but not excessive, amount of movement. As a hunter, I am extremely mobile compared to other damage dealers, but I like to move when I want to, for better positioning, etc. I do not enjoy constant movement just for its own sake. For example, I always did quite well on the Hanz and Franz fight in BRF, but I never really found it fun, too much required movement. Same with the trains one.

(Ultraxion is an obvious exception to everything I just listed as reasons I liked the bosses. I think he is in there because it was fun for a change to just stand still and unload everything you’ve got on a target dummy type boss. Kind of a live fire exercise for everyone!)

Last, but not least, my favorite bosses were challenging when they were current, but they did not seem impossible.

I like mechanics that are easy to understand but challenging to execute. I think the toughest set of mechanics to understand in my list were on the Lich King — not because they were so complex, but because there were so many of them, they changed every phase, and almost any one of them could kill you if not properly dealt with.

I like mechanics that are novel and creative, too. So that usually means I like bosses with new mechanics the first time they are used, but when Blizz incorporates the “new” mechanic into the next several bosses, I lose interest. Thus, I liked Siegecrafter for the conveyor belt mechanic, but I did not like that same mechanic in Hanz and Franz or the trains in BRF. I liked the whisk-you-away mechanic in Sha of Fear, but it was not nearly so much fun for me when repeated in Kargath Bladefist in Highmaul.

And some mechanics I just hate, no matter what. I could never get the hang of the maze in Durumu the Forgotten in Throne of Thunder, and so that boss would be very high up on my list of most hated fights. The mechanic was novel, I will grant you, but it was just impossible to execute for some people. (And yes, I tried every conceivable camera angle, every possible graphics setting, every hint ever posted anywhere, so please don’t write me about the one foolproof way you found to do it. I guarantee you I already tried it and it did not work for me. When a significant number of players who are not idiots cannot manage a mechanic, it is a terrible one.)

I like bosses that can be defeated with good teamwork and individual alertness, not ones that can kill you just by bad luck, for instance that target random raid members (including tanks and healers) with raid-wiping debuffs.

There is, however, a fine line between “challenging” and “almost impossible without pure luck”. My all time worst boss was Ragnaros. Our guild almost disbanded over him. I have lost count on how many wipes we had on him, but it went on for literally months, to the point where raid night became one long painful trudge with sullen guildies driven only by a rapidly diminishing sense of loyalty to a raid leader with more stubbornness than good sense. Several people did in fact leave the guild over his refusal to allow us to start the new tier until we had downed Ragnaros. When we finally did get him down, it was due to fantastic luck and came down to our one pally left alone, eking out enough damage and self heals to kill Rags just milliseconds before he himself died. I have never gone back to that boss since.

Anyway, I still don’t know if I can define what it is that makes a boss fun for me, but it certainly includes:

  • Having a specialized role to play, beyond straight DPS.
  • Enough movement to highlight hunter mobility, but not so much as to force it on me and not so much as to make all ranged casters miserable.
  • Easy to understand mechanics that require practice and alertness to execute properly.
  • More or less guaranteed success if the fight is properly executed at the level being fought. That is, the fight has zero dependence on RNG factors such as random selection of players for catastrophic debuffs, The harder the fight is, the more this last stipulation is important.

That’s it for me, I think. I would be interested to know what it is that makes a boss fight fun for you.